Source: Purchased audible copy
Publication: 28 September 2021 from Wildfire; Hardback 6 Jan 2022
Narration: Lockie Chapman
Listening Time: 14 hrs 37 mins
ASIN : B09DZ2PG3C
In the desolate outback town of Finnigans Gap, police struggle to maintain law and order. Thieves pillage opal mines, religious fanatics recruit vulnerable youngsters and billionaires do as they please.
Then an opal miner is found crucified and left to rot down his mine. Nothing about the miner’s death is straight-forward, not even who found the body. Homicide Detective Ivan Lucic is sent to investigate, assisted by inexperienced young investigator Nell Buchanan.
But Finnigans Gap has already ended one police career and damaged others, and soon both officers face damning allegations and internal investigations. Have Ivan and Nell been set up, and if so, by whom?
As time runs out, their only chance at redemption is to find the killer. But the more they uncover, the more harrowing the mystery becomes, and a past long forgotten is thrown into scorching sunlight.
Because in Finnigans Gap, nothing stays buried for ever.
I have taken to reading Chris Hammer on audiobook, ever since I worried that their size would slow down my ability to get to the ever burgeoning TBR list! It’s not a decision I regret as they make fantastic listening.
Opal Country is a stand-alone thriller (though there are references here to his series character, journalist Martin Scarsdale), and it has everything I look for in a strong crime thriller. The sense of place is tangible. You can feel the blistering heat of this dry and dusty mining community in the Australian outback.
Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic and a young local investigator, Narelle (Nell) Buchanan, are tasked with working together to solve this murder which takes place in opal country and specifically in the small town of Finnegan’s Gap. Opal mines offer dry, dusty and often unrewarding work, but when opals are found, the wins can be big. And where there is gain to be had, there are people ready to take advantage. Opal thieves roam this land – called ratters by the locals; they come out at night ready to see what they can poach from others’ mines.
Opal Country is brutal. As the book opens we are confronted by the most gruesome of murders – so striking it looks like it may have been staged. The victim is miner Jonas McGee . His backstory is one of tragedy. He is estranged from his daughter, Elsie, as a result of an accident for which he was responsible and has served his time in prison as a result.
DS Ivan Lucic has a sterling record with the Sydney Homicide team, but he and his erstwhile partner, DI Morris Montifiore, have not achieved their reputation without upsetting the apple cart. Now Montefiore is being investigated by Professional Standards and Lucic knows he, too, is in their sights. Away from his home base, there’s a lot at stake for Lucic as he works with Buchanan to solve this crime.
Lucic has his own demons, not least a gambling habit and he finds that as a stranger, he is not welcomed into Finnegan’s Gap and has his own reasons for playing his cards close to his chest. Nell Buchanan is young and inexperienced but she is tenacious and her local knowledge will prove invaluable to Ivan.
As they slowly find a way to work together in partnership, the number of potential motives and suspects grows. Opals are big business and with that comes all the usual motives for crime. Power in opal mining in this area is concentrated in the hands of two very rich men: Robert ‘Bullshit Bob’ Inglis, and, Delaney Bullwinkel, the owner of Cattamulla Coal. The men are longstanding bitter rivals. Alongside these big mining beasts there is ‘The Rapture’ a religious cult led by a despotic man known as ‘The Seer’.
Big business, politics, local secrets and revenge all play into this black, haunting crime. There’s corruption, dark forces at work and blackmail playing into what rapidly becomes an intense and enthralling mystery which will have you glued to the pages.
Hammer writes vividly with characters that leap from the page and a plot that has so many twists and turns you’ll get dizzy as you read. The partnership between Lucic and Buchanan is excellent as it moves from tentative to mutual respect, back to mistrust but always utilising a great skills match in pursuit of the truth.
Verdict: Gritty, intense with an outstanding sense of place and that dry, dusty heat permeating everything. This is fantastic writing that grips the imagination and enriches the genre. Highly recommended.
Chris Hammer is a leading Australian crime fiction novelist, author of international bestsellers Scrublands, Silver and Trust. His new standalone novel, Opal Country, is published in January 2022. Scrublands was an instant bestseller upon publication in 2018, topping the Australian fiction charts. It was shortlisted for major writing awards in Australia, the UK and the United States. In the UK it was named the Sunday Times Crime Novel of the Year 2019 and won the prestigious UK Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award.Scrublands, Silver and Trust all feature troubled journalist Martin Scarsden and his partner Mandalay Blonde, while Opal Country follows Homicide detectives Ivan Lucic and Nell Buchanan. All four books are notable for their atmospheric Australian settings, range of colourful characters, intricate plots, descriptive language and emotional depth.Before turning to fiction, Chris was a journalist for more than thirty years. He reported from more than 30 countries on six continents for SBS TV. In Canberra, roles included chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, senior writer for The Age and Online Political Editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Chris has written two non-fiction books The River (2010) – winner of the ACT Book of the Year – and The Coast (2012), published by Melbourne University Press.He has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master’s degree in International Relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra, Australia.